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Pianist brings classical music to the slopes of Mount Bachelor

Hunter Noack brings his concert series to some of Oregon's most beautiful and isolated locations, encouraging others to come experience the synthesis.

BEND, Ore. — On a hot and breezy summer late afternoon, dozens of hikers trekked their way thousands of feet up Central Oregon's Mt. Bachelor, a world-class ski resort in the winter.

Many took the Pine Marten chair lift partway up the volcano. Then, carrying camp chairs on their backs, the hikers trudged on foot the last half mile over loose rock and volcanic scree. Some were winded, catching their breath as they explained the reason for their unique summertime journey.

"It is an adventure," said one hiker.

"We are headed to the piano," said another.

There are a lot of reasons to climb a mountain in the west, but piano music usually isn't one of them.

Yet, as the hikers reach their destination with the Three Sisters and Broken Top mountains as a stunning backdrop, indeed there was a nine-foot Steinway grand piano seemingly impossibly poised on the precipice of the mountain. At the keys, classical pianist Hunter Noack was ready to perform — part of his "In a Landscape: Classical Music in the Wild" concert series. 

Bringing music to public spaces

Noack started the concert series in 2016, in the spirit of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration's Federal Theatre Project which presented free concerts in public spaces and parks.

"I was inspired by that because it brought fine arts outside of these places that sometimes feel exclusive and brought them into places that belong to all of us, our public lands," Noack said.

Noack has performed in the wild in all corners of the state and in between; from Crater Lake to the Oregon Coast, from the Alvord desert to the Wallowas.

At the mountaintop concert at Mt. Bachelor, audience members were perched amid the lava rock and patches of lingering snow, under bluebird skies. Wireless headsets provided concert-quality acoustic sound, allowing people to wander and experience their surroundings. Part of the concert series' mission is to celebrate Oregon State Parks and public lands.

"We look out here on the Deschutes National Forest and all this is thousands of acres of public land and it's our responsibility to care for it," Noack said.

A unique introduction to classical music

For about a third of the audience, it was their first time at a classical music concert. They are enticed, initially, by the uniqueness of the concert, but then they're drawn in by the music.

"And so part of it is the drama of seeing this beautiful instrument in these beautiful landscapes and that brings people here. And once they're here, they're like, 'This is actually amazing music,'" Noack said.

As people took in the spectacle of a piano atop an inactive volcano, many wondered out loud, "How did they get that piano up here?"

How they got the piano up there

Noack, the artist, is also the composer of a detailed technical plan for his precious piano to scale a mountain.

"It's over a 100 years old and it's seen probably more of the world than any other piano," Noack said.

The road to the top started at sunrise.

"It gets a little rough and tumbly — and when we get up there, it's next level," Noack said as he pointed toward the top of the mountain.

The piano was carefully packed. Its legs removed, it rode on its belly on a flatbed trailer pulled behind a Dodge Ram heavy duty pickup. The truck hauled the treasured cargo around treacherous turns, over rocky terrain and hollowed out holes in the dirt road.

"It really is amazing. It's a testament to Steinway. These pianos were built to move," he said.

Once it was near the top, and after a bit of break when the truck overheated, a Skytrak mountain tractor pulled the truck and trailer the last quarter mile over the loose lava scree. With Noack at the steering wheel, supported by his crews, they guided the piano into perfect position on the rocky edge of Mt. Bachelor. The "In a Landscape" team let out a cheer of relief and appreciation for Noack's skillful driving once the piano was in place.

The crew secured the piano, leveled it, and reattached its legs. Then a piano tuner got to work making sure all the keys had the correct pitch following its rough journey up the mountain. 

The soundtrack to a stunning landscape

The flatbed became a stage, Mother Nature provided the backdrop, and Noack and his Steinway supplied the soundtrack. From Chopin to Rachmaninoff to Ravel, the soaring music connected the audience to the landscape and to the instrument. Noack even invited people to listen from underneath the piano.

"I hope people find moments of magic in nature. I hope people feel something because of this music and because of being in a landscape with other people," Noack said.

"This is just the most amazing thing I've experienced in a long time in my life," said Lonnie Miller of Salem.

For those who've been to one of Noack’s concerts before it did not disappoint.

"What touched me sitting here tonight is I can hear the same piece at different locations and it touches me in a different place," said Bonnie Lorenz of Corvallis.

For those who experienced classical music for the first time, like 10- and 12-year-old Wolf and Maximus Augsberger of Bend, it was exhilarating.

"I like the music more than I thought I would. And I liked the scenery more," said Wolf.

"It's kind of nice to hear music outdoors," said Maximus.

“Classical music in the wild” brings hope

Lonnie Miller summed up what many people at the concert were feeling.

"It's a breath of fresh air. After COVID, it's brought me a piece of life again and some hope, and a new beginning, I think," Miller said.

Classical music in the wild. Chords in a landscape that lift us up and bind us together.

For those who are interested in attending an "In a Landscape: Classical Music in The Wild" concert, ticket information is available online.

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